Personal well-being was the theme of the day at San Quentin’s 16th Annual Health Fair.
A diverse array of professionals from the healthcare industry ventured inside the walls of San Quentin to educate the incarcerated about physical and mental health.
“Everybody matters and their health should be valued,” said nurse Mike, a volunteer, “I’ve worked with underprivileged populations before and I believe that every person deserves the right to health education.”
The event was sponsored by TRUST (Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Societal Techniques), a self-help group at San Quentin specializing in teaching emotional intelligence and mindfulness. The 10-month curriculum is taught by Diana Kronstadt, Fran Engstrom, Quillen Powers, Helaine Melnitzer, and Susanne Siciliano.
Nurse Mike spent the day at the Nurse’s Station measuring the blood glucose and cholesterol levels of the incarcerated. The Nurse’s Station was one of several health activities on San Quentin’s lower yard.
Other screening areas at the Nurse’s Station included blood pressure measurement, body mass index calculation, vision testing and auditory exams. Incarcerated individuals filled out a tracking sheet, which was then used to record their results for personal documentation. When one of the student nurse volunteers gave an individual a result, they took the time to ex- plain what each number meant and give tips on how incarcerated individuals could improve their health through lifestyle choices.
“Y’all need to stop eatin’ all them soups!” one of the nurses yelled aloud in a general statement to all the men in blue, “All that sodium ain’t good for your heart or your blood pressure!”
Larry Vitale, a professor of nursing from San Francisco State University, has organized troupes of nursing students to volunteer at the health fair for the past 16 years.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship as our students are changed by this as well,” said Professor Vitale. “The educational aspect of volunteering here allows the future nurses to be exposed to the marginalized.”
Professor Vitale wants people to realize that incarcerated individuals are people too and to treat the less fortunate with dignity.
Another popular area at the health fair was the gym. Activities in the gym included chiropractic adjustment, acupressure therapy, diabetic education, and a Tai Chi exercise.
“When I got my backed cracked, I felt all the ten- sion leave my body,” said Yahya Malik who recently transferred from High Desert State Prison,“It helped with my self-awareness cuz I didn’t even know I was tense.”
He also enjoyed the Tai Chi exercise.
“I ain’t never done that before,” said Malik, “I thought it was a martial art, but it’s more like a moving meditation.”
Reverend Deborah Lee from the Asian Prisoner Support Committee led the Tai Chi sessions. It was her seventh year attending the health fair.
“I always get a lot out of it, to see all of the programs at San Quentin,” Reverend Lee said.
David Liao, a massage therapist from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco said he had some apprehension before coming into San Quentin, but once he started meeting the incarcerated individuals his apprehension “melted away.”
“It’s awesome. I love what we can do to help you guys,” said Liao.
The diabetic station educated the men in blue about lifestyle issues regarding diabetes. The station was sponsored by the diabetic program, a 16-week class that teaches incarcerated individuals with diabetes how to monitor their blood sugar and teaches them about their disease.
“I think it’s important to empower the men,” said Kim Bailey, a nurse and sponsor for the San Quentin diabetic program.
In the education building, a mental health class taught the men in blue about general mental health, sports, leisure, mindfulness, through a jeopardy- style game. Handouts included: “How to Meditate,” “Gratitude,” “Recreation Therapy Boggle” and “Organ Systems Crosswords.”
Near the baseball diamond, the incarcerated got a chance to sit down with doctors to have their health questions answered, such as the ap- propriate amount of water to drink each day or what kinds of food to stay away from. After the conversa- tions, the doctors gave each
incarcerated person a granola bar. Also on the lower yard were tables for the California Reentry Program, Center-force, CDCR Mental Health, LRC(Love, Respect, and Communication), and Health Education(Alameda County Public Health Services and UCSF residents).
“We’re here to sign up people who aren’t familiar with our program,”said Anne F. of the California Reentry Program, “Whether they have a parole date or a release date, we can help get them ready for parole, get their resume ready for employment opportunities, help them find housing, help get the necessary identification they’ll need upon release Social Security card, California I.D., etc.”
The California Reentry Program has regular meetings on Tuesday nights and Friday afternoons. During these meetings, attendees are individually assisted by a reentry specialist to plan for a successful integration back into society upon their release.
At the Love, Respect and Communication (LRC) table, Dr. Arnold Chavez spoke to groups of five individuals for three-minute segments, explaining the principles of LRC.
“When we think of love and respect, communication is the foundation for both of these. We need to have strong communication skills,” he said, “You wouldn’t be here if you’d communicated better. Can I say that?”
Most of his audience nodded their heads in agreement.
At the spiritual healing station, prayers could be heard in both English and Spanish.
Jose Gomez, a volunteer at the spiritual healing table, attended with his wife Micaela Carteno.
“It’s a blessing for me, to give a little bit back as God has given to me. I receive love from God. I give love to my brother,” said Gomez.
The Center force table showed a video which covered topics such as hepatitis, STDs, tuberculosis, HIV, as well as warnings about risks associated with tattoos and drug needles.
Each San Quentin resident was given a ticket which list- ed the different stations at the fair. After going to each station, a stamp was given to each individual. After receiving three stamps, attendees were able to redeem their ticket for a toothbrush and a mini toothpaste.
“Before coming in, I had an expected fear of inmates, prejudices and anxiety, but I will recommend this day to all nursing students,” said nursing student Alina. With a smile on her face, she said about prison, “It’s not what it’s like on television!”